Feb 29, 2016
This past year for Christmas, I asked J to buy me the same desktop radio and water boiler he has in his office: the radio for playing classical music while I work and the water boiler to provide a ready supply of hot water for tea. Yesterday, I completed my home office setup by adding some stacking mugs and a bamboo tea box to organize my supply of green and herbal teas: a simple addition that makes my home office more organized and visually appealing.
I type these words, I’m listening to classical guitar music while sipping a cup of pomegranate white tea, the simple addition of music and hot beverages making my home office much cozier and conducive to productivity. Controlling one’s environment is an important part of honing one’s habits, and I find myself more willing to spend hours at my desk working now that I have both music and hot beverages close at hand.
Feb 25, 2016
It’s been a strange winter, with the weather coming in fits and starts. After last winter’s record-breaking snowfall, everyone seems relieved to navigate bare streets and sidewalks…but a winter almost entirely devoid of snow still seems eerily unnatural.
Last night we had a rainstorm with high winds and thunder, today the temperature soared into the 60s, and tomorrow will dip back toward freezing. Even with a spare set of boots in my office and an extra pair of shoes in my car, I never know how to dress, the climate of “yesterday” never quite matching the weather of “today.”
This afternoon after my office hour, I took a stroll around campus, ostensibly to swap my too-warm boots for the shoes in my car. On the way, I saw witch hazel blooming in its usual spot, but more than a week earlier than it has in the past. In snowier seasons, the first sight of anything blooming comes as a revelation; this year, it only seems odd. Last year was too snowy and this year too warm: like Goldilocks, I feel disoriented and out-of-sorts on an ambling search for Just Right.
Feb 6, 2016
I’ve lived in New England long enough to notice that the day after a snowstorm is often sunny. Yesterday while the snow fell, the sky was dishrag gray, but this morning the sky was blue and cloudless: crystalline.
These clear blue days after snowstorms always feel like a kind of consolation: Mother Nature’s way of apologizing. After you’ve hunkered down through the throes of a storm, you’ll be rewarded the morning after with perfect weather for digging out. Even if the day after a snowstorm is cold, the sun quickly gets down to the business of melting, so if you’re diligent about clearing most of the snow from your car, sidewalks, and other surfaces, the sun will take care of the rest.
Yesterday’s snow was wet and heavy, so today our neighborhood is dotted with downed branches and an occasional toppled tree. Wet and heavy snow is the most likely to take down power lines, but we weathered the storm without losing power. Today the trees around our house were particularly picturesque, with each twig highlighted with a bold stroke of white. Soon enough, the snow will fall from the trees and grow dirty underfoot, but today, our neighborhood looked like it had been slathered with a thick layer of white frosting.
This winter has been remarkably mild, so it’s almost a relief to have a bit of snow on the ground to brighten an otherwise drab winter landscape. A fresh blanket of snow is like a fresh coat of paint that reflects and magnifies the sunlight so many of us crave. A bleak winter landscape without snow looks stark and naked, but a layer of snow brightens everything it touches.
Feb 3, 2016
Starting a new semester always feels like plunging into a bottomless lake: you’re instantly subsumed into a dizzying blur of motion, and it takes a while to find your equilibrium. I sometimes wonder what it is like for folks who work a regular job where every day is pretty much like the last, without the excitement and upheaval of starting over, again, every three months or so. It there comfort in being settled into a predictable routine, or does that routine quickly become a daily slog?
After several years of teaching nothing but first-year writing, this semester I’m teaching a 200-level literature class on “The American Short Story.” I taught a similar adult education class in New Hampshire years ago, but what worked with a small group of adults meeting one night a week after work doesn’t necessarily play to a brimming classroom of 18- to 20-something-year-olds. When you teach a class for the first time in a long time, it’s easy to doubt both your knowledge and abilities: is teaching a skill you always remember, like riding a bike, or can you grow so rusty, you forget how to do it over time?
Preparation is essential to good teaching: the classes where you walk in and try to “wing it” are invariably the ones where everything goes wrong. But there is such a thing as over-preparation. When I look back on the detailed class-plans I crafted for that long-ago adult ed course, I’m amazed I ever had time to be so organized. In retrospect, I realize my typewritten plans were designed for my own more than my students’ benefit: having pages of notes as a safety net made me feel more confident even if I never actually referred to them in class.
Looking back on that long-ago adult education class, I remember how the best sessions took on a life of their own, my students steering the discussion into corners my notes never anticipated. I suppose that’s how teaching goes on the good days: you prepare your script, then you let yourself improvise as the moment unfolds. Plunged into the dizzying blur of the present moment, you kick your legs and flail your arms, relieved to realize you never forgot how to swim.